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Ocean Resort Casino shake-up continues as executives depart

ATLANTIC CITY — Two top executives at Ocean Resort Casino were let go Monday, further signs of a new direction under New York-based hedge fund Luxor Capital Group.

Frank Leone, the property’s former CEO, and Alan Greenstein, now ex-chief financial officer, were terminated less than a month after Luxor assumed control of Ocean Resort from Colorado-based developer Bruce Deifik.

Bob Ambrose, an adjunct professor of casino management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a gaming industry consultant, said the change in leadership at Ocean Resort is no surprise since Luxor assumed majority control last month.

Casino revenue up 20 percent to start 2019

ATLANTIC CITY — Casino gaming revenue continued to surge in the first month of 2019 with a reported increase of nearly 20 percent bolstered by online and in-house gains, according to figures released Wednesday by state regulators.

“I honestly thought it would have happened sooner,” Ambrose said. “Changing a company’s leadership, or the hierarchy, is just part of an investor’s overall strategy. Simply said, it’s usually part of a larger plan to move forward with initiatives and a fusion of funding that they’re placing into Ocean Resort.”

Eric Matejevich, former chief operating officer of the now-closed Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, will succeed Leone on an interim basis. Terry Glebocki, who recently served as corporate chief financial officer of Tropicana Atlantic City, was announced as Greenstein’s replacement.

“As we move forward with enhancements to the guest and player experience — including substantial increases in our entertainment programming and player events throughout the year, adding a world-class buffet, additional suites and rooms, incremental investments on the casino floor and other exciting projects — Terry and Eric’s expertise will be invaluable in continuing our momentum,” the company said in a statement Tuesday night.

Deifik purchased Ocean Resort in January 2018 for $229 million from Florida-based real estate developer Glenn Straub with significant financial backing from Luxor and JPMorgan Chase Bank. Both Leone and Greenstein were part of Straub’s casino plan, TEN, which never materialized. The two executives were kept on by Deifik when the property opened June 27, the same day as Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.

“We wish to thank Alan Greenstein for his years of service and wish him success in his future endeavors,” the company’s statement read. “We also extend our good wishes to Frank, who will be pursuing other opportunities after having provided important leadership for Ocean Resort Casino.”

Within months, the property began to struggle in Atlantic City’s ultra-competitive casino market. Ocean Resort’s gaming revenue ranked either last or near the bottom of the city’s nine casinos every month, according to data from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. Luxor and Ocean announced a change of management in late January, with plans for a $70 million investment in the property.

In February, during a Casino Control Commission meeting where the board approved a divestiture trust agreement that transferred majority control from Deifik to Luxor, state gaming regulators revealed Ocean Resort had not been in compliance with financial licensing stipulations since November and the casino hotel had lost nearly $23 million since that time. The trust documents also outlined Luxor’s investment plan, which included using $50 million to pay down a portion of the principal owed to JPMorgan.

Matejevich was named trustee of the divestiture agreement state gaming regulators approved Feb. 6.


Business
Don't say goodbye to South Jersey power plants yet, offshore wind firm says

It may not be the end of the road for two South Jersey power plants planned for decommissioning.

Offshore wind company Orsted alerted mariners last month that its 170-foot surveying vessel will study waters off Atlantic County, and the path runs near both B.L. England in Upper Township and the Oyster Creek Generating Station in Forked River.

azoppo-pressofac / Provided  

A notice sent out by Danish firm Orsted alerting mariners to future surveys of the ocean floor included a map stretching from Oyster Creek to B.L. England.

Orsted spokeswoman Lauren Burm confirmed the company is eyeing the two plants as a way to connect its turbines to the energy grid. Orsted submitted a bid in December to the state Board of Public Utilities for ratepayer subsidies to fund its project, which it says could produce up to 1,100 megawatts of energy and will bring 100 permanent jobs during the farm’s 25-year expected life cycle.

“The surveys are an effort to collect data and to continue to refine the project design to be able to make a final interconnection decision,” Burm said.

The vessel, R/V Enterprise, will conduct geophysical surveys of the sea floor for two months to determine where Orsted’s proposed wind project 15 miles off Atlantic City might connect to the power grid. Surveying was set to begin in mid-January but was postponed.

B.L. England, New Jersey’s last coal-fired power plant, is set to close in May. It brought jobs and electricity to the region for nearly 60 years. Crews are now decommissioning two of the power-generating units, which sit on the edge of the Great Egg Harbor Bay. B.L. England declined to comment further.

In Forked River, the Oyster Creek nuclear plant shut down in September. Camden-based Holtec International wants to buy the plant and decommission it, but is awaiting license-transfer application approval from the federal government.

Upper Township Mayor Richard Palombo said incorporating B.L. England into Orsted’s plans is logical. He has discussed the possibility in meetings with company officials, he said.

“It would make sense from a location standpoint to utilize B.L. England as an existing transmission grid that’s already in place,” he said. “There’s potential for opportunities.”

For now though, the fate of B.L. England is unclear. Whether the plant is repurposed for offshore wind or for a natural gas pipeline is up in the air.

The state is still reviewing the three offshore wind applications it received to determine which will get subsidies. The decision will be made by July.

B.L. England is also part of the proposed, 22-mile South Jersey Gas pipeline. It has faced an ongoing legal challenge from the New Jersey Sierra Club since 2017, after the state Pinelands Commission approved the pipeline despite outcry from those concerned it would carry natural gas through the state’s largest protected nature reserve. Oral arguments are set for April.

“There’s no guarantee that (the application) is going to be accepted,” Palombo said. “The South Jersey Gas pipeline could also go there. That may still be an option. ... Reasonably it still could be done.”

But environmental groups are hoping the wind project prevails over the pipeline.

Last week, more than 50 advocacy groups descended on Trenton urging Gov. Phil Murphy to put a moratorium on fossil fuel projects in the state. The organizations jointly issued a report that stated the South Jersey Gas pipeline would release 1.13 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually if built.

South Jersey Gas did not respond to requests for comment.

New Jersey Sierra Club President Jeff Tittel said in a statement earlier this month the B.L. England site should be used for renewable energy projects.

“We have said all along that this area would be a perfect location for offshore wind,” Tittel said. “We do not need any more fossil fuel pipelines. Instead, we need to use renewable energy to create green jobs and a green economy.”


Business
Group working to identify Hammonton's Little Italy

HAMMONTON — Tom Ricca is a lot of things: a proud father, a hardworking business owner, an energetic former WWE wrestler, and now, a champion of his town’s Italian heritage.

For the past year, Ricca, 50, has been leading a crusade to create a Little Italy in the heart of one of the state’s most Italian towns.

More than a decade ago, Town Council designated a section of town bounded by Egg Harbor Road, Fairview Avenue, Third Street, Pratt Street, Mt. Carmel Lane, French Street and Orchard Street as “Little Italy,” but signage was never placed to identify it.

Ricca is hoping to change that with a concept that includes signs and banners, a website and an interactive map of the area. He said he hopes to get red, white and green crosswalks painted, but admitted that may be a long shot.

Little Italy Hammonton map 2019

“You take the bull by the horns. Someone has to do something when you’re excited about something,” Ricca said.

Down a tree-lined corridor just west of the center of town is a collection of businesses, clubs and residences that trace their roots to the influx of Italian immigrants in the 19th century.

Hammonton, population 14,000, has long boasted about its Italian heritage. Census data place it at the top of national lists for highest percentages of residents with Italian ancestry. The latest figures from the American Community Survey put it at 44 percent.

“You have the Sons of Italy, located on Third Street. You have the Italian Sons and Daughters on Pratt Street, you have the Mount Carmel grounds, which encompasses a whole city block,” said Louis J. Pantalone.

GALLERY: Procession of saints at 143rd Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Pantalone is president of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society, which for the past century and a half has run an Italian festival in town that ends with a Catholic procession.

“Which makes us the longest-running Italian festival in the U.S.,” he added, before continuing to list notable Italian landmarks in town: Inferrera’s Market, St. Joseph’s Church and neighboring Convent.

“You can go on and on,” he said.

Ricca knows it well. His father, Cosimo, also a businessman and a baker, owned and operated Vet’s Sunrise Bakery at Fairview Avenue and Egg Harbor Road for many years. Now, Ricca, his wife and Ricca’s brother, Mike, operate two businesses at the former bakery — a pizzeria, which is closed for renovations, and Cannoli World.

Ricca said he thinks the designation will be a point of pride for the area, and it won’t hurt business either. Both he and Inferrera’s Market have placed signs at their stores to identify the area. Ricca said a website is in the works, and he has solicited help from area residents to gather old photos of the neighborhood.

Anne Marie DeCicco, president of the Hammonton Historical Society, agreed the section named Little Italy is probably one of the oldest Italian neighborhoods in town.

Hammonton: On The Road

The longest running Italian-American parade is not found in Brooklyn or Staten Island, but right here in Hammonton. It was sultry out, though that doesn't stop the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel festival from celebrating their *143rd* year !

“It goes back to the mid to late 1800s. They were poor as church mice,” DeCicco said. “They had no ground, they couldn’t own ground. Most of them worked for other people.”

She said her own relatives, who immigrated from Gesso in Sicily, lived near Cottage Avenue in the neighborhood.

“They were all close, and it seems that a lot of Italians lived near their relatives,” she said.

DeCicco said she thought designating Little Italy in Hammonton was a great idea, but she hadn’t heard of it before being contacted for this story.

“Actually, I would call all of Hammonton Little Italy,” she said.


Press archives  

The mouth of the Tuckahoe River flows into the Great Egg Harbor Bay on the other side of the B.L. England power-generating station in the Beesleys Point section of Upper Township. The river flows only about 12 miles from head to mouth.


Politics
Despite moderate stances, Van Drew still targeted for defeat by NRCC

Although he’s taken moderate stances on national issues, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew is on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “offensive targets” list for the 2020 election cycle, as someone the party particularly wants to defeat.

That’s in spite of him having favored border barrier expansion, voting against Nancy Pelosi for House speaker and opposing the Green New Deal as “a wish list — not a serious policy proposal.”

The NRCC said the 55 seats it is targeting “are currently held by vulnerable Democrats and represent prime pickup opportunities for Republicans” in a news release Monday.

Van Drew, D-2nd, was again a guest on the Fox Business show “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo” this past Sunday, where he put in a pitch for Amazon taking another look at Atlantic County for its new headquarters, after its deal to go to Queens in New York City fell through.

He said Monday he is not worried about being on the hit list.

“I will continue to do my best and work my hardest for Republicans, Democrats and independents in my district,” he said, “and because of that reason, I believe I will prevail regardless of what lists I am on.”

The choice facing voters is “freedom or socialism,” said NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer, who seemed to paint all Democrats with the broad brush of extremism.

“Whether they are calling for open borders, refusing to denounce rampant anti-Semitism, advocating for a 90 percent tax rate or moving to legalize the murder of newborn babies, the new socialist Democrats are pushing an extreme agenda that is sorely out of touch,” Emmer said in a news release.

Other New Jerseyans on the list include moderate Democrat Mikie Sherrill, D-11th, a helicopter pilot and veteran who became the first Democrat to lead the Morris County district in many years; Andy Kim, D-3rd; Josh Gottheimer, D-5th; and Tom Malinowski, D-7th.

On the Bartiromo show, Van Drew said he doesn’t think Trump should have declared an emergency to move more money than Congress was willing to provide for a longer border wall with Mexico. Van Drew said Trump is overstepping the power of the executive branch.

He called the situation at the border “serious” and said a working group should continue to consider border security improvements. But he said it did not rise to the level required to take away the power of the purse from Congress under the Constitution.

He also talked about why he opposes the Green New Deal proposed by his partymates.

“We can’t do it right now. We do not have the money,” Van Drew said of a nonbinding resolution introduced Feb. 7 in the House by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and in the Senate by Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass.

The Green New Deal calls on lawmakers to endorse steps to vastly remake many sectors of the U.S. economy, including moving to 100 percent renewable energy, upgrading infrastructure, boosting oversight of financial services and cleaning up farming processes, according to Congressional Quarterly-Roll Call.

It also calls for universal health care coverage and guaranteed incomes.

The main programs in the Green New Deal would cost about $2.5 trillion per year, according to a report in Forbes. He said it would more than double federal spending, which was set at $4.5 trillion in 2018.

U.S. debt interest payments are funding China’s whole military budget, Van Drew said, and the country can’t afford to go even further into debt, he said.

According to a statement on the Green New Deal put out earlier by Van Drew, “It seeks the complete reorganization of American society, which took hundreds of years to build, in a matter of 10 years.”

He called its costs “unimaginable” and said its criticism of the U.S. economic system was inaccurate.

“The United States of America is the greatest and most powerful nation in the history of the world because we are a compassionate, capitalist country,” he said.


clowe-pressofac / provided  

Van Drew Congressman Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd